Researchers from UCLA had reported in the recent issue of Nature Neuroscience that people who die in their sleep suffer from loss of brain cells due to sleep apnea.
For people suffering from obstructive sleep apnea, the person stops breathing during the sleep when their air passage collapses. Researchers had identified an area in the brain as preBötzinger complex (preBötC), which is responsible for breathing in human beings, and this function is enacted by a group of neurons called preBötC neurons.
Researchers had given rats a cell specific compound targeted to kill half or more of the preBötC neurons. The results showed that rats stopped breathing when they where in their first stage of sleep characterized by rapid eye movements. The rats were then forced to get up and this continued and increased in severity. Rats developed a breathing problem during their sleep and this slowly affected their day's breathing as well.
Researchers feel that the human brain can compensate for 60% of the loss of preBötC cells, but this decreases, as we grow old. That is why with age, the humans become more prone to sleep apnea. For the older people who die in their sleep, when they are affected by sleep apnea die in their sleep as their lungs and heart have weakened with age.
Researchers are of the opinion that this may be the cause that affects the elderly people who suffer from neural degenerative disorders like Parkinson's disease, etc.
Medindia on Sleep Apnea:
Obstructive sleep apnea syndrome (OSAS), also known as the condition of fragmented sleep is associated with hypertension, heart problems, stroke, and obesity, breathing problems, sexual dysfunction and clinical depression. This condition may range from minor sleep disturbance to a threat to life. In less severe conditions, OSAS remains undetected in people for a long time.
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